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What Ever Happened to Wristlets?

New, 2 comments

Regular clutches just can’t compete, sorry.

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Model Jessica Michibata at a Coach event in 2006.
Model Jessica Michibata at a Coach event in 2006.
Photo: Jun Sato/WireImage

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Handheld purses are having a moment right now — and I’m not just talking about classic clutches, the injustices of which we’ve discussed extensively on this very site. No, I’m specifically speaking of the various handheld “Instabags” I’ve spotted on enough photo feeds to last a lifetime, like Simon Miller’s hoop-handled Bonsai bucket and the Cult Gaia Ark bag.

Both, it should be noted, are incredibly cute. But like most clutches, they require the use of one or more of your hands, which is no good if you’re a person who enjoys juggling several beverages, using your phone, gesticulating wildly, or all of the above.

Back in the aughts, there was a very simple solution to this “I want a cute bag, but I also want full use of my hands” quandary: wristlets. Remember wristlets? They were basically glorified wallets that came equipped with a nifty strap you could loop around your wrist, thereby freeing up your fingers and preventing you from dropping your stuff.

A Coach wristlet from 2004.
“Remember me?”
Photo: Julia Ewan/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Throughout the 2000s, brands ranging from Charlotte Russe to Louis Vuitton all offered up versions of this strap-cornered clutch, at prices ranging from $10 to almost $500 — you could find one in any style, at any price, in every mall. But perhaps no label was as deeply associated with the ubiquitous wristlet as Coach, whose logo-laden iterations were a must-have at my small suburban high school (and the schools of several of my fellow Racked editors).

I remember scrimping and saving my allowance for weeks so I could splurge on one of the buckled leather Soho styles at the Coach Factory Outlet near my neighborhood — my first real designer “bag!” — and then proceeding to carry it absolutely everywhere, from the mall to the movies.

That wristlet was just the right size for all of my teenage essentials — lip gloss, car keys, Motorola Razr, exactly three neatly folded dollar bills — and elevated the drab khakis and boxy polo shirt I was required to wear daily as part of my school’s dress code. It also provided me with a chic, discreet way to shuttle tampons from my AP Biology class to the ladies’ room (because god forbid my classmates suspect that I, a female human, had a period).

Sometimes, I’d carry my wristlet around solo; others, I’d clip it to the handle of my textbook-laden tote and just let it hang. I’m not particularly proud of this, but occasionally I’d even unzip it, squeeze the strap over my shoulder, wedge it underneath my arm, and proceed to carry it like a proper purse — a move I would not recommend unless you happen to be an American Girl doll.

Kyla Pratt of The Proud Family fame gets it.
Kyla Pratt of The Proud Family fame gets it.
Photo: A. Nevader/WireImage

When I headed off to college, my wristlet came along for the ride. It was the ideal going-out bag; I felt better knowing that if I imbibed in one too many vodka-cranberries, my most valuable possessions wouldn’t wind up abandoned on a subway seat or in a bathroom stall since they were literally strapped to my person.

Now, more than a decade later, I’m not sure what ever became of my beloved wristlet (although I’m pretty sure it’s still somewhere in my parents’ house). But I do believe, now more than ever, that wristlets are brilliant by design. Sure, they’re not especially trendy at the moment, but you know what never goes out of style? Being able to double-fist drinks without setting down your valuables.

And for what it’s worth, wristlets are also still very much a part of Coach’s repertoire (although the company’s current versions are covered with dinos instead of logos). There’s even a chain strap specially made to turn them into shoulder bags — you know, so the next generation of wristlet wearers don’t resort to stuffing their precious pouches into their armpits.